Jazz: Welcome back to another season of NFL celebration, prognostication, cheers and tears here at Hot Gas. (TM) Being unable to decide who wanted the dubious honor of chairing these weekly meetings more, Ed and I decided that we would continue the tradition we started during the playoffs last year where we both enter our predictions, with the winner getting the “prize” of doing the NFL thread the following week. I had pretty good luck during the closing weeks of the 2013 season, so I’ll kick it off today. My Jets, however, didn’t fare quite as well, barely making the .500 mark and missing the playoffs. And if you listen to the New York Daily News sports section, they expect even less of them this year. (They predict both the Jets and Giants will go 7-9.) But opening day is the time when we can all fall back on the Any Given Sunday theory and hope for another shot at the big brass ring. My fantasy league lineup looks horrible, honestly, but we’ll update you on that next week.
Ed: Well, my Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t do much better last year, finishing 8-8 and narrowly missing out on a wild-card slot. Pittsburgh had a good draft, have younger starters this year, as Sports Illustrated notes in placing them 13th in their power rankings at the start of the season (12 of them have four years or less in the league). They start off with a couple of proven power runners in LaVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, plus a potential star in Dri Archer. Their running game has to take some heat off of Ben Roethlisberger this year in order to keep him healthy for the entire season, and the defense has to return to its shut-down Steel Curtain performances of a few years ago. Look for both to improve in 2014.
As for my fantasy team, well … it may be marginally better than Jazz’, but we’ll see.
Jazz: We’ll go with a format this year where we both pick two or three standing games (at least involving the Jets and the Steelers) with the “winner” that week selecting a few more to come up with seven picks. (The Pack already got whooped by the Seahawks, so there’s no need to dwell on that.) This week, the Jets host the Raiders. We’ve been decimated at the cornerback position, taken some other personnel hits on both sides of the ball and are still waiting to see if Geno Smith has grown into the very big shoes he was handed. But hey… the Raiders stink on ice, so I’ll take the Jets 31 -13. The Steelers play host to the Browns, and every report I see is that Cleveland is in nearly as much trouble as the Raiders, not only in terms of lacking big playmakers, but having coaching problems as well. I’ll open the season in a gesture of good will to Ed and pick the Steel Curtain to win decisively, 24-6. And finally, we’ll toss in a pick for the Vikings visiting St. Louis. I hear a lot of experts predicting big things once again for the Rams this year and the Vegas line has them as 3.5 point favorites, but I think Minnesota has made some good changes, particularly with the addition of Shaun Hill. I’ll take the Vikings in a nail biting upset, 21 – 17.
Ed: Aaaaaaaand … here we go. Pittsburgh should take care of the Browns easily, especially given the QB controversy going on in Cleveland, 31-14. Likewise, Geno Smith notwithstanding, the Jets should not have too much trouble with the Raiders at home, but I don’t think the Jets will score that much; let’s call it 20-13. Vikings at Rams is another story. With Sam Bradford out, the Rams are looking at a bad way to end the last year on their lease, and might be looking for greener pastures in old, familiar territory. Adding Matt Cassel as starting QB and Norv Turner as offensive coordinator should bring back a legitimate offense, and Cassell might be ready to be one of those late-bloomer QBs like Rich Gannon. This should be a relatively low-scoring game, but I’ll also pick the Vikes for a rare road win, 24-10.
Jazz: Lets get in four more games and see if I can start the season strong. (All times Eastern)
- Redskins at Texans (1 pm, FOX) – THIS IS WASHINGTON’S YEAR! (said almost nobody outside of DC and very few there…) Actually, the Skins don’t look like they’re giving their fans a lot to cheer for and and Houston is a 3 point favorite, but I think there are too many questions remaining about Ryan Mallett’s step up to the big chair. I’ll go with the upset and take the Redskins in an error filled 17-14 nail biter.
- Bengals at Ravens (1 pm, CBS) – Baltimore is only a slight favorite over Cincinnati this week, but John Harbaugh has been a beast when leading his boys on their home turf and they are mostly healthy. As much as Ed will hate to see it happen, I’ve got the Ravens winning big, 34 – 20.
- 49ers at Cowboys (4:25 pm, FOX) – A lot of folks thought the Niners would go all the way last year, and they nearly did. While they may have shown a few flaws, they should be more than enough to overcome the suspect Dallas D and the comedy of errors which is Tony Romo, assuming Kaepernick manages to stay steady and healthy. This should be a fast paced, high scoring game and a lot of fun to watch. Give me San Francisco 38 – 31.
- Chargers at Cardinals (Monday 10:25 pm,ESPN) – We’ll sneak in one of the two Monday night games here, though I’m not terribly impressed with either team. The Cardinals are a slight favorite on the Vegas line, but even on the road I think San Diego has too much on the defensive side for Carson Palmer to handle. I’ll take another upset pick here and take the Chargers in a surprisingly wide margin, 34 – 17.
- Redskins at Texans (1 pm, FOX) – Can RGIII come back to full health and form? Hopefully, but it remains to be seen. The Texans had a horrible season last year, going 1-7 on the road and at home, but the Redskins were 1-7 on the road, too. I’ll pick the Texans just to go against Jazz, 21-17.
- Bengals at Ravens (1 pm, CBS) – I sense an upset here. Both Cincy and Baltimore will be tough this year, and home-field advantage should give the Ravens the edge. The only possible fly in the ointment will be all the new kids on defense, and the lack of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed who really gave that D an identity. Cincy’s a young team but have seasoned themselves more last year. Expect this to be close, but … 27-24 Bengals. Should be a great game to watch.
- 49ers at Cowboys (4:25 pm, FOX) – San Francisco will have to chase the Seahawks all year, and they’re going to have to get to a fast start. The Cowboys play well at home, but not shut-down well. I’d expect the Cowboys to lead for three quarters and then find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, 34-31.
- Chargers at Cardinals (Monday 10:25 pm,ESPN) – San Diego was a mediocre road team last year, and there’s no particular reason to think they’ll be much better this year. Arizona may have been the best team that didn’t make the playoffs last year, and they also have to chase the Seahawks and San Francisco again in 2014. They’ll get off to a fast start, beating the Chargers 28-20 at home.